Beth Michelle Semel

she, her, hers
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
On sabbatical AY 24-25
126 Aaron Burr Hall
Office Hours

By appointment only




Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Anthropology of science, technology, and medicine; linguistic anthropology; science and technology studies; artificial intelligence; computing cultures; history of psychiatry and psychology; listening, voice, and sound; surveillance; United States

Short bio:

Beth Semel studies the sensory politics and technopolitics of American mental health care in an era in which artificial intelligence (AI) is called upon to manage increasingly broad arenas of human life. Her ethnographic research traces the sensory-communicative practices and labor that underpins machine listening technologies, especially those designed to evaluate and track people experiencing mental distress using computational voice analysis.

Semel's current book project investigates efforts to utilize voice analysis AI to radically transform the way that people who interface with the American mental health care system are listened to. She exposes how the decontextualizing, actuarial, and universalizing ideologies of listening at play in these projects are shaped by the American mental health care system's ever-tightening entanglements with profit and security regimes. Semel argues that the making of machine listening mental health care technologies are sites where dominant frameworks of language, disability, race, gender, and care are reproduced, and at times, contested and reconfigured by the very individuals involved in assembling them, from clinical social workers and data annotators to human research subjects.

Semel completed her PhD in History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society at MIT, her MA in Anthropology at Brandeis, and was a 2018-2019 Weatherhead Fellow at the School for Advanced Research.